Living in the shadow of her widower husband’s seemingly perfect former wife, the narrator of ‘Rebecca’ is driven by the life of a dead woman.
First thing’s first, not naming the protagonist to the story is a brilliant stroke of genius. It really does feel that the current Mrs de Winter doesn’t have an identity: she is the new wife, nothing more and nothing less, and her struggle to combat Rebecca’s mysterious ethereal presence is incredibly compelling reading. Even when the ghost of Rebecca is revealed to be a poltergeist, unwanted and unloved, Mrs de Winter’s life is still driven forward by Rebecca’s life. When Rebecca is the angel, she shadows any achievements or qualities the current Mrs de Winter has; but when she becomes the fallen angel, it is clear that her darkness is the only reason Mrs de Winter can shine, thus Rebecca and Mrs de Winter lead a fascinating set of parallel lives.
The notion of the other woman is frequently explored, and in particular Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ is felt amongst the home at Manderley in ‘Rebecca’. The presence of an unknown, and the existence of another woman, prevents love, and even when this other woman is vanquished, the love is never quite the same as is began. Maxim’s disappointment over Mrs de Winter’s newfound adulthood following his revelations about Rebecca illustrate this perfectly: she becomes something different to what he fell in love with, all because of her knowledge of Rebecca. It is in this sense that Maxim is able to pronounce that Rebecca has won, both in life and death. Indeed, this idea of her winning is particularly bittersweet upon the visit to Dr Baker, where it is made abundantly clear that Rebecca let herself die: she chose to make that day her end, because she could not bear the thought of wasting away. This also means she has won socially: she leaves Maxim and the future Mrs de Winter with a social circle who cannot extol Rebecca’s virtues enough, with this culminating in the horrifically awkward situation at the Manderley Ball. Rebecca has infiltrated every atom of the social and personal situations at Manderley, ruining Maxim’s future by being an ever-present spirit.
Mrs Danvers is also a brilliant way of continuing Rebecca’s legacy. The chapter in the west wing bedrooms, where Mrs Danvers forces Mrs de Winter to examine the material remains of Rebecca’s life, is one of the best examples of her continuing her mistress’ reign. On thinking about it, Mrs Danvers doesn’t even contribute too much to the beginning section of the novel, and yet we are always aware of her, lurking and biding her time, and it is this element which I feel reflects Rebecca the most from what we are told of her. The ability to implicitly manoeuvre those around her and manipulate innocent situations, such as the dress Mrs de Winter wears to the disastrous Manderely Ball, is critical in retaining the presence of Rebecca throughout the novel.
I must admit, the first chapter was not incredibly inviting: I thought I was in for a hard slog. However, I could not have been more wrong. ‘Rebecca’ is brilliantly written, perfectly paced and absolutely enthralling. It draws you in with its unique take on the mystery of the other woman, and uses subtle clues to draw you towards the gripping conclusion. ‘Rebecca’ is definitely a book that will haunt me, just at the titular character haunted the world she left behind.